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New life for satellite



Innovation and lower deployment costs, coupled with the need to meet customer demand in areas where terrestrial infrastructure is limited, has fast-tracked the growth of satellite broadband, leading to lower costs for local users, says ABID QADIRI.

This is according to Abid Qadiri, Chief of Business Solutions and Excellence at Neotel, who says there have been numerous major breakthroughs in satellite broadband, such as the adoption of more affordable Ka-band spectrum, which is finding a niche in the South African market. Traditional C-band and Ku-band will coexist with Ka-band, with each band of spectrum servicing a specific customer need and sector.

Qadiri explains that high throughput satellite technology will also make its mark in South Africa. “Network operators should invest more time and resources in devising strategies to use both technologies simultaneously to actively provide performance better than DSL at a cost similar or cheaper than DSL.

Qadiriadds that technological advancements and co-opetition by network operators has made satellite a suitable and more reliable alternative to terrestrial connectivity outside of the metropolitan areas. “Operating satellite broadband requires a large amount of capital expenditure and it makes sense for network operators to bundle investments, in order to deliver services to end users at relatively lower costs.

“The main challenge is overcoming high operating costs. As a result, we are currently developing an open access teleport for the industry that can be used by any licenced network operator, as a reseller or a Virtual Network Operator (VNO), for collocation and so forth. This model has been successful in Australia, where the entire network is open access and has been actively used to overcome the country’s broadband challenges. The open access model allows network operators to pick the right medium to connect users without investing in costly infrastructure.

He explains that satellite broadband also experiences challenges in bad weather conditions. “Ka-band for instance is not for critical communications and is typically provided without SLA because of its sensitivity to weather, it is therefore ideal for the lower end of the market. While Ku-band can succumb to changes in the climate, there are a number of proven techniques that network operators can employ during adverse weather conditions to provide customers with seamless user experiences. C-band is currently the most resilient of the spectrums.

According to Qadiri, the industry has seen a lot of growth in the uptake of satellite broadband in underserviced areas. Although some education is required by industry to dispel the myths and misconceptions around Satellite communications for customers new to this medium, namely:

o Complexity- While some satellite knowledge is helpful, operating satellite broadband is not any more complex when compared to terrestrial connectivity.

o Unreliable -In its niche satellite broadband is currently more reliable than terrestrial connectivity, Neotel has been able to maintain over 99% availability of its services here in South Africa as well as out in Africa.

o Large user investment -Investment is only required from the network providers’ side – end users benefit from lower costs.

o Latency compatibility with applications-Latency only affects certain applications. Network operators can overcome this by tweaking applications and network tuning. Neotel, for example, has a retail customer in Africa that runs all its SAP applications seamlessly via satellite.

o Security – Satellite technology employs the same security measures as terrestrial networks.

“Meeting customer demand has been one of the driving forces behind the growth of satellite broadband in South Africa. Particularly in underserviced areas, most end-users are not as concerned about the means that network operators use to connect them: their main concern is good, stable, connectivity – regardless of whether it is delivered via satellite, terrestrial or other wireless mediums. The strength of the network operators is in having the right mediums at its disposal to address the end-users’ requirements in whatever context.

Going forward, private-public collaboration is essential to ensuring the required terrestrial and satellite infrastructure investment and strategies to address the broadband challenges in South Africa. The private sector is certainly ready, and willing, to work with the government in the implementation of policies to ensure connectivity for everyone,” concludes Qadiri.

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